A dozen or more teenagers with a variety of disabilities will be waiting Friday to chat with fellow students and adults to raise awareness of and dispel myths about the challenges they meet daily.
The youngsters, who will host visitors at the Powerhouse Science Center (formerly the Durango Discovery Museum) can talk about how they live with organ transplants, epilepsy, diabetes, traumatic brain injury, spina bifida and spinal injuries.
“These kids have learned to be responsible,” said Liza Tregillus, a self-employed personal coach, who teaches youth leadership skills through peer mentoring. “They learn to talk to classmates and others about living with their condition.”
The Peer Mentor Project started at the San Juan Basin Health Department where Tregillus was the regional social worker for 22 years. She continued the project at the request of parents and the young people themselves.
Student presentations are done through La Plata Youth Services with a grant from the La Plata Electric Association’s Round Up Foundation.
The LPEA foundation is able to make personal emergency grants and fund programs such as the Peer Mentors Project when customers round up their monthly electric bill to the next dollar. Some customers also donate directly to the program. Since LPEA initiated the program in 1977, the foundation has given almost $1.1 million in grants.
When it comes to disabilities, adults as well as children hold many misconceptions, Tregillus said.
“People often don’t believe that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is real,” Tregillus said. “They don’t think it can affect performance in school. “Epilepsy is misunderstood,” she said. “It doesn’t have to involve a grand mal seizure.”
Grand mal involves violent muscle contractions and loss of consciousness. But there are 60 to 80 manifestations of a seizure, Tregillus said.
Teachers can mistake a seizure for misconduct or law enforcement officers may think a subject is drunk when they see what appears to be bizarre conduct, Tregillus said. As a result, Durango police officers are trained to identify such episodes.
At the Powerhouse Science Center, students with disabilities will be at individual stations where visitors can hear their message. It shouldn’t take more than an hour to hear all of them, Tregillus said.
Two of her children will make presentations about epilepsy and hearing loss.
Local health professionals have donated informational displays for the event. Contributors are Donor Alliance (transplants), Epilepsy Foundation of Colorado, Spine Colorado, Animas Audiology, Pediatric Partners of the Southwest and Mercy Regional Medical Center.